The entirely-too-early Central Ohio basketball preview: Part 1

Rodney Culver (left), Nick Ward (center) and Jalen Tate (right) will be three key players to keep an eye on in the OCC-Ohio in 2014-15 - Mitch Brown // Central Ohio Photography

As we've hit the dead period between the end of AAU basketball, and the beginning of high school practice in the fall, let's take a look at part one of LGHL's "Entirely-Too-Early" Central Ohio basketball preview.

Ask any basketball fan in Columbus about the outlook for 2014-15, and more than likely you'll hear that this season is up for grabs. With no real favorite to dominate the area this season, what should the casual fan in Central Ohio expect for this upcoming year? Without further adieu, let's take a look at part one of LGHL's "Entirely-Too-Early" preview. Tuesday's edition will cover the OCC-Ohio and OCC-Central divisions, while previews for the OCC-Cardinal and Capital will be released on Wednesday. LGHL's Columbus City League preview will come out on Thursday.

Usual suspects atop the OCC

Tied atop the almighty OCC-Ohio a year ago, Gahanna, Newark and Pickerington Central look to come back just as strong despite losing valuable contributors to graduation. Across town in the OCC-Central, Dublin Coffman looks like an early leader, as state runner-up Upper Arlington loses nearly all of its production from a year ago. In the OCC-Cardinal, immense talent in the 2016 class makes this division anyone's to win. Lastly, with Delaware Hayes and New Albany controlling the OCC-Capital a season ago, not much looks to change in 2014-15.

OCC-Ohio

T1. Gahanna

2013-14 record:

22-3 (11-3, tied for first)

Key losses:

Javon Bess (6'5 SG, Michigan State)

Manny Powell (5'10 PG, Sinclair CC)

Corey Howard (6'0 SG, St. Josephs (IN))

Dez'Juan Wright (6'0 SG, Northland (transfer), 2015)

Top returnees:

Matt Moyer (6'8 PF, Syracuse commit, 2016)

Nick Ward (6'8 C, No. 108 in 247Sports class of 2016)

Alonzo Campbell (6'11 C, Wright State offer, 2015)

Jenisys Battle (6'3 PG, 2015)

Outlook:

With the area's most talented frontcourt, Gahanna again poses as one of Central Ohio's strongest teams in 2014-15. As Moyer and Ward have made meteoric rises up recruiting boards this summer, combining for 41 scholarship offers, with Moyer committing to Syracuse on Aug. 8, coach Tony Staib has a lot to look forward to from his pair of 6-foot-8 big men. Rising senior Alonzo Campbell has been one of the area's most improved big men from the regular season, and should see an increase in playing time from a year ago. Losing lots of depth in the backcourt from a season ago, Gahanna's guard play will be the key for the Lions this season. Look for senior Jenisys Battle to man the point guard position, while juniors Junior Arrey, Chad Barrick, Warren Yates and Braydin Foulke should receive significant playing time. In the area's toughest division, Gahanna will need to play unselfish and mistake-free basketball to run away with the OCC-Ohio in 2014-15.

T1. Pickerington Central

2013-14 record:

19-6 (11-3, tied for first)

Key losses:

Jae'Sean Tate (6'5 SF, Ohio State)

Connor Kern (6'4 SG, Arkansas State)

DJ Tyree (6'2 PG, Northland (transfer), 2016)

Top returnees:

Ibi Watson (6'5 SG, 2016 (transfer from Athens))

Rodney Culver (6'5 SG, 2015)

Jalen Tate (6'5 SF, 2016)

Outlook:

For the second year in a row, Pickerington Central will be without a legitimate big man, but as we saw last season, that really didn't bother the Tigers as they advanced to the regional semifinals. Losing two of the program's most prolific scorers in Tate and Kern, the Tigers will need even more production out of Culver and the younger Tate, while the Athens transfer Watson adds much-needed firepower to the Pickerington Central offense. Look for senior Dajon Moore to give the Tigers depth and leadership in the backcourt, as sophomores Derrick Rayford and Darius Coker will provide youth and energy off the bench. Don't be surprised if junior forward Jaylin Bannerman is one of the Tigers' most-improved players from a season ago, as the 6-foot-5 athlete will get many chances early to produce in an up-tempo offensive scheme.

3. Newark

2013-14 record:

20-4 (11-3, tied for first)

Key losses:

Teddy Metzen (6'6 PF, Ashland)

Grant Russell (6'4 SF)

Logan Anderson (5'11 SG)

Key returnees:

Jordan Dartis (6'3 SG, several low and mid-major offers, 2015)

Dustin Stoneburner (6'2 SF, 2015)

Khayle Woods (5'8 PG, 2015)

Outlook:

As Dartis' high-scoring paced the Wildcats a year ago, expect more of the same in a greater volume this season. Despite losing front court size in Metzen, Newark will again be one of the more well-coached teams in the area, as coach Jeff Quackenbush is one of the state's best at maximizing talent. Always solid at home, expect Newark to take advantage of any potential slip ups from Gahanna and Pickerington Central to mix things up at the top of the division.

T4. Grove City

2013-14 record:

17-7 (9-5)

Key losses:

Tyler Dunn (6'2 PG)

Tyler Cowles (6'1 SG)

Scottie Luchini (5'9 PG)

Key returnees:

Nic Bapst (6'4 SG, 2015)

Drew Bapst (6'4 SF, 2015)

Robbie Jobe (6'4 SF, 2015)

Outlook:

Always one of the tougher teams in the division, Grove City has a lot to look forward to with the return of the Bapst duo. As Nic was one of Central Ohio's leading scorers, the Greyhounds will need more from its star player to be able to make a run for the top of the division. Always solid at home, don't be surprised if Grove City knocks off one of the top teams late in the season, just like they did vs. Newark in late February this past year.

T4. Groveport

2013-14 record:

11-12 (4-10)

Key losses:

CJ Crowder (6'1 SG, Columbus State)

Jake Seipel (6'5 PF)

Key returnees:

Tyus Ferguson (6'0 PG, 2016)

Tre' Charles-Martin (6'1 SG, 2016)

Tyrell Carter (5'11 PG, 2016)

Carmearl Thomas (6'6 C, 2015)

Outlook:

A team on the up and up, keep an eye on the Groveport-Madison Cruisers in 2014-15. With great depth in the backcourt, big men Thomas and rising junior Marshawn Davis have shown great improvement in the front court, giving Groveport the type of balance it will need to compete in the OCC-Ohio. Rising junior big man Connor Seipel has drawn high praise from the Groveport coaching staff, as the 6-foot-4, 220-pound big man was the Cruisers' most consistent performer throughout the summer. Ferguson is a treat to watch at the point guard position, while Charles-Martin, Carter, and seniors Ray Rhone and Tyrone Cherry will be vital on the perimeter as Groveport looks to build off an 11-12 season a year ago.

T4. Reynoldsburg

2013-14 record:

14-11 (8-6)

Key losses:

Travis Gleason (5'8 PG, Wilmington)

Chiante Palm (6'2 SG)

Josh McCoy (6'2 PF)

Tyrek Pugh (6'1 SF)

Key returnees:

Jarius Ward (6'2 SG, one of Ohio's top guards in the 2017 class)

Lloyd Chatman (5'9 PG, 2015)

Reece Strohm (6'5 SF, top ten small forward in Ohio's 2017 class)

Outlook:

Losing five seniors to graduation, Reynoldsburg will be an interesting team to watch out for this season. The sophomore duo of Ward and Strohm look to take another major leap forward, while Chatman has developed into a true point guard this summer, which should help the Raiders fill the gap that Gleason leaves behind. Always a feisty bunch, Reynoldsburg should again be competitive in a tough division.

7. Pickerington North

2013-14 record:

3-20 (2-12)

Key losses:

Nigel Harris (5'9 PG)

Jordan Chambers (5'9 SG)

Key returnees:

Bryce Montes (6'2 SG, 2015)

Zach Montes (6'1 PG, 2016)

Devin Davie (6'2 SF, 2015)

Ty Wiley (5'9 PG, 2018)

Outlook:

As Jason Bates takes over the Pickerington North program after a successful tenure at Walnut Ridge, the Panthers find themselves on the outside looking in. As Montes returns following a successful junior season, Bates will need more scoring from his 6-foot-2 guard, as a strong freshman class for North will need some time to develop. Keep an eye out on Montes' younger brother, Zach, who was honorable mention all-conference after starting at the point guard position for the second half of the season.

8. Lancaster

2013-14 record:

2-21 (0-14)

Key losses:

Tristan Pierce (6'0 SG)

Tyler Call (6'6 C)

Riley Hamilton (6'4 SF)

Key returnees:

Chris Gang (6'5 PF, 2015)

Jacob Bacus (6'4 SF, 2015)

Dylan Sharp (6'1 SG, 2016)

Outlook:

The glory days of Lancaster basketball are long gone, and 2014-15 should be no different. Look for the lengthy Gang to be the Golden Gale Force's scoring catalyst, as Lancaster attempts to climb out of the cellar of the OCC-Ohio.

OCC-Central

1. Dublin Coffman

2013-14 record:

18-6 (10-4, third)

Key losses:

Nate Axelrod (5'7 PG, Ohio Wesleyan)

Antoine Smith (6'5 PF, Westerville South (transfer), 2017)

Top returnees:

Luke Vargo (6'7 SF, Furman offer, 2016)

CJ Saunders (5'10 PG, 2015)

Seth Fuller (5'11 SG, 2016)

Noah Vollmer (6'5 PF, 2015)

Outlook:

Playing their best basketball late in the season, Coffman would make an inspired charge to a district title, taking down Dartis and Newark before losing to Northland in the regional semifinals. With Axelrod being the Rocks' lone senior a year ago, Coffman comes back stronger than ever with arguably the area's top back court between Fuller, Saunders, and senior Shaun Rankin. Sharp-shooting junior forwards Vargo and Sam Payne should continue to improve, while senior combo-guard Evan Duncan provides lots of versatility on both ends of the floor. In the front court, 6-foot-5 Vollmer is one of the more underrated forwards in the area, while 6-foot-6 junior Jason Boateng, 6-foot-8 junior Alex Gellerstedt and 6-foot-5 senior Gage Hisey provide even more depth. With arguably the deepest roster of any team in Central Ohio, Coffman is the presumable favorite at this point in the OCC-Central.

2. Upper Arlington

2013-14 record:

26-2 (13-1, first, state runner-up)

Key losses:

Kevin Vannatta (6'3 SG, UNC-Asheville)

Danny Hummer (6'1 PG, Air Force)

Wes Davis (6'2 SG)

Logan Richter (6'6 PF)

Top returnees:

Griffin Caldwell (6'3 SF, 2015)

Gabe Akins (6'3 SG, 2015)

Michael McGovern (6'4 PF, 2015)

Outlook:

After a historic run to the state title game, Upper Arlington loses arguably its best player in program history in Vannatta, while Hummer leaves a major hole in the Golden Bear backcourt. Four of UA's starting five moves on to college, while the 6-foot-4 McGovern is the lone returning starter. Despite all the change on UA's roster, I still expect head coach Tim Casey's team to be highly competitive in an OCC-Central that lost a lot of talent to graduation. Junior wings Caldwell and Akins look to be two of UA's top scorers this season, while McGovern looks to man the paint. The biggest question heading into this season for UA is who takes over for Hummer at point guard? A team that rarely made mistakes a year ago, Hummer's replacement will have big shoes to fill as the floor general in an offense that relies on efficiency. A team that was known for its toughness behind the leadership of Vannatta last year, it will be interesting to see who steps up and becomes the Golden Bears' emotional leader in 2014-15.

3. Olentangy Liberty

2013-14 record:

14-9 (11-3, second)

Key losses:

Mike DeLeon (6'5 SF, Ohio Dominican)

Law Jones (6'3 SG)

Zach Nice (6'6 PF)

Top returnees:

Brenden White (6'1 PG, one of Ohio's better point guards in the 2017 class)

AJ Kullman (6'8 C, 2015)

Jacob Wiseman (6'1 SG, 2015)

Outlook:

Similar to Upper Arlington, Liberty also loses arguably its best player in program history in DeLeon. Leading the Patriots in nearly every statistical category a season ago, DeLeon will be greatly missed as coach Greg Nossaman looks to build around a strong 2015 class. White will be one of the top sophomore point guards in the area, and will be relied on heavily to distribute the ball to a team complete with perimeter shooters. Always one of the more well-coached teams in the OCC, don't sleep on Liberty in 2014-15.

4. Thomas Worthington

2013-14 record:

14-9 (8-6)

Key losses:

Coach Bob Miller (retirement)

Yemi Sholesi (6'5 PF)

Tyrrell Stewart (6'3 SG)

Top returnees:

Jaret Gerber (5'9 PG, 2016)

Nick Veal (6'3 SG, 2015)

Outlook:

With legendary coach Bob Miller stepping down after 31 years as Thomas Worthington's head coach, this season more than ever will be one of uncertainty. Graduating a solid senior class led by the Nigerian forward Sholesi, the Cardinals will need to fill the void that the 6-foot-5 Sholesi leaves in the front court. As guards Gerber and Veal form a solid backcourt, Thomas will be an interesting team to keep an eye on in 2014-15.

5. Hilliard Davidson

2013-14 record:

5-18 (3-11, tied for sixth)

Key losses:

Jimmy Ratliff (6'7 SF, Middletown (transfer), 2016))

Josh Stimmell (6'0 PG)

Top returnees:

Mike Simon (6'6 PF, 2015)

Luke Mayer (6'7 PF, 2016)

Nick Potts (6'5 PF, 2015)

Outlook:

One of the OCC's biggest teams, Davidson would have been even bigger had Ratliff returned for his junior year. With the talented 6-foot-7 wing moving on to Middletown, the Wildcats should still be pretty competitive in the OCC-Central, as Simon and Mayer are two of the better forwards around the basket in the division. As Mayer missed the end of his sophomore season due to surgery, the lengthy junior had a breakout AAU season and should continue his impressive play into the high school season. Look for Davidson to be a solid middle of the pack team in the Central division.

6. Marysville

2013-14 record:

15-10 (7-7, fifth)

Key losses:

Logan Roston (6'2 SG)

Alec Draughon (6'4 PF)

Ryan Evans (6'4 PF)

Kyle Moulton (6'2 SF)

Top returnees:

Drew Mellen (6'6 C, 2015)

Jevon Knox (5'11 SG, 2016)

Chase Chamblin (6'2 SF, 2015)

Outlook:

One of the more surprising teams in the division a year ago, Marysville knocked Olentangy Liberty out of title contention late in the regular season, and then knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs in the second round. Losing its primary scorer in Roston, and size in the front court in Draughon, Moulton and Evans, Marysville is a team in transition this season. Marysville's JV team went 20-2 a season ago, as rising juniors Casey Gould, Dominic Scranton, Mark Millholland, and Matt Carpenter will give the Monarchs much-needed depth. As 6-foot-6 Mellen is a wide body force in the paint, look for the Monarchs emerging guards to gauge just how good this team can be in 2014-15.

7. Central Crossing

2013-14 record:

4-19 (1-13, eighth)

Key losses:

Marc Russell (5'10 SG)

Dwight Diggs (6'2 SF)

Brock Casey (5'9 PG)

Top returnees:

Isaiah Napper (6'2 SG, 2015)

Andrew Russell (6'5 SF, 2015)

Noah Stephens (6'4 SF, 2016)

Outlook:

Still stuck in a funk that began after South-Western City Schools lost sports for the fall of 2010 after a failed levy, Central Crossing has never been able to get back to being the competitive team that they were prior to the levy failure. As coach Tony Mangette enters his second season at the helm of the Comets program, seniors Napper and Russell will be looked to score in a wide variety, while Stephens will be a tremendous addition to the team if he decides to play (Stephens is a big time wide receiver prospect on the football team). The Comet backcourt will be a major question as Russell and Casey leave major holes at the guard spots.

8. Westland

2013-14 record:

5-18 (3-11, tied for sixth)

Key losses:

Toury Freeman (6'3 PF, Rio Grande)

Jaquan Henry (6'2 SG)

Jerry Shields (6'3 SF)

Top returnees:

Javon Watson (6'3 SG, 2015)

Nico Thaboun (5'8 PG, 2015)

John Gebhardt (6'6 PF, 2015)

Outlook:

With three coaches in three years, Westland has lost all stability it had with longtime coach Todd Parker following the end of a successful 2012-13 season. As last year's coach Seth Martin moves on to take over the Logan girls basketball program after a solid job with a Cougar squad that had little varsity experience a year ago, assistant coach Scott Vyansky takes over the Westland program. As the 6-foot-3 guard Watson was one of the better breakout players in the OCC-Central last year, look for a big senior season out of him as Westland attempts to climb out of the bottom of the division.

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